International degree students would like to have more Finnish language courses and, at the same time, more courses in English. Other than that, most international degree students are satisfied with the academic study environment in Finland. But the hard thing is the social integration to Finnish community and to the social study environment.

These results are revealed in a new study done by the Student Research Foundation Otus and its researcher Anna Niemelä.

“The results resemble the results of previous studies”, says Niemelä.

The interaction with Finnish students is considered difficult. The main reasons are the small number of common courses with Finnish students and the communication policies of student organizations. There seems to be room for development in tutoring as well.

When commenting on the social study environment, the respondents noted that the informal atmosphere and the modest level of competition between students are positive factors.

“The level of education and services such as libraries, computer and instruction are perceived as high”, Niemelä says.

International students would like to have more Finnish language courses especially in the advanced level.

“There are enough courses on basic level but it`s difficult to learn more. The lack of social interaction with Finns makes it difficult to train your skills”, Niemelä tells.

The lack of social interaction with Finnish students is shown also in the fact that other Finnish friends were considered much more important in learning Finnish than other Finnish students.

Niemelä looked also into the life outside the academic circles. Finland was considered safe and well-functioning society but the students hoped that their social life and free time had more substance. Also obtaining employment was considered hard.

The research data is composed of 952 international degree students’ replies from every Finnish university. Among the respondents the most common nationalities are Chinese, Russian, Indian and German.

International students seem to be highly educated. As much as three out of four had done at least bachelor`s degree before moving to Finland.

The skills in Finnish language varied much. 13 percent of respondents said they are at advanced level. Only 4 percent said they still didn`t know any Finnish at all, while in the beginning of the studies more than half didn`t know any Finnish.

What`s difficult in Finland?

Anna Bessonova, 18. Second year student in Sociology and Development Studies. From Russia.

“There are less courses held in English than I expected. For example, in the basic studies I had to do six courses out of seven as a book exam. Now I have heard that the Faculty of Social Sciences is reducing the intake of bachelor`s students. I think it`s stupid because it`s more likely for bachelor students, who stay here for four years, to stay here after they`ve graduated than for student`s who participate in two-year-long masters program. And I guess that`s what the Finnish government wants that students would stay here.”

Scott Sphar, 27. Graduated last year as a Master of Arts in General Linguistics. From USA.

“The most challenging aspect of living in Finland is social isolation. Even if you have motivation to study Finnish language, at least in the beginning you don`t know any Finnish at all. How could I have known where are e.g. the parties for freshmen when I couldn`t understand a word in Finnish? I found my first friends in the university`s debating society and in the Tsemppi, which is the organisation for international degree students at Helsinki University. Nowadays half of my friends are Finnish. At work place I speak both Finnish and English.”

Ahmed Ali, 33. Seventh year post-graduate student in Dentistry. From Libya.

“I think it`s weird that I can`t work as a dentist here in Finland even though I`ve graduated as a dentist in Libya. That means that I`ve never diagnosed the fungus infection that I`m researching from a real patient. My dissertation defense will be in June and I hope that after that I would be able to work here as a dentist for a while. After that I`ll move back to Libya, because that`s what I have agreed with my home university: they have financed my researching here.”

Päivi Ala-Risku